The art of glyptics, or carving on colored
precious stones, is probably one of the oldest
known to humanity. Intaglios, gems with an
incised design, were made as early as the fourth
and third millennia B.C. in Mesopotamia and the
Aegean Islands. The exhibit a virtuosity of
execution that suggests an old and stable
tradition rooted in the earliest centuries. The
tools required for carving gems were simple: a
wheel with a belt-drive and a set of drills.
Abrasives were necessary since the minerals
used were too hard for a metal edge. A special
difficulty of engraving intaglios, aside from their
miniature size, was that the master had to work
with a mirror-image in mind.
Caracalla was born April 4,188 in Lyon, where
his father, Septimius Severus, was serving as
governor of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis
under Emperor Commodus. His name was
changed from Lucius Septimius Bassianus to
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus at the age of seven.
From the time of his name change to Antoninus,
Caracalla was the designated heir of Severus.
Less than three years later he was proclaimed
emperor, officially joining his father as co-rulers
of the empire. Upon his father’s death in 211,
Caracalla ruled the empire jointly with his
brother, Geta, until he was murdered later the
same year, leaving Caracalla in sole control at
the age of 23. The year 212 saw a flurry of
administrative reforms under the young
emperor's leadership. Soldiers received increases
in pay and in legal rights, but the most
noteworthy change was the bestowal of Roman
citizenship upon all free residents of the empire.
In 217, Caracalla was assassinated on the road
back from his military campaigns against the
Parthians in the east. Although Caracalla remains
a rather dubious figure, historians often
overlook the energetic, reformist and even
intellectual character of Caracalla's reign. The
changes brought about in the little more than
five years of Caracalla's sole rule would have
long-lasting implications throughout the empire
for generations to come.